PORTLAND – Doug Rafferty, a former longtime news anchor for WGME-TV, is suing the television station and its parent company, claiming they discriminated against him after he suffered a stroke on the air by removing him from his job and cutting his pay.

Rafferty’s attorneys, David Webbert and Matthew Keegan, filed the lawsuit on his behalf in Cumberland County Superior Court on Feb. 15. The station has yet to be served with official notice and has not yet responded to the lawsuit, which claims disability and age discrimination.

Rafferty, now 61, was a news anchor for Channel 13 in Portland for 16 years before he suffered the stroke during a broadcast on Jan. 19, 2006.

“Mr. Rafferty had fully recovered from his 2006 stroke as of 2007 and since 2007 he has had no recurrence of any symptoms,” said Webbert. “In other words, he has been fully capable of serving as a TV anchor from 2007 to the present.”

As a news anchor, Rafferty’s annual base salary was $93,000, with an additional $25,000 to $30,000 per year in other wages. After his stroke, he kept his base salary but lost the on-air extras, Webbert said.

“In 2007, General Manager Terry Cole and News Director Robert Atkinson told Mr. Rafferty that the station was removing him from ‘the chair.’ In other words, the station was removing Mr. Rafferty from his anchor position,” says the seven-page complaint in the lawsuit. “When Mr. Rafferty was replaced as anchor, he was 55 years old. His replacement was in his early 40s.”

Rafferty continued to do some broadcasts and, over time, assumed more computer-infrastructure and information technology roles.

In February 2011, WGME management told Rafferty that his salary would be cut from $93,000 to $45,000, according to the lawsuit, because his new role was not worth as much as his broadcast work.

“I think they saw him as damaged goods, and they eased him out over the passage of time,” Webbert said. “One of the issues for him was, when he got his pay decreased, he had a daughter in college and a daughter on the way to college. He was willing to put up with a certain amount. … They basically told him ‘goodbye.’

The lawsuit against WGME and its parent company, Maryland-based Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc., demands a jury trial and seeks a monetary award for lost wages and benefits, and other damages.

“I can’t comment on it,” said WGME General Manager Tom Humpage when contacted about the lawsuit Thursday.

A spokeswoman for Sinclair Broadcast Group also declined to comment.

And through his attorneys, Rafferty declined comment.

In January 2007, Rafferty told the Portland Press Herald that leaving his position as news anchor had nothing to do with the stroke and that he felt “fine.”

Rafferty left WGME last year and now works as a spokesman for the state Department of Inland Fisheries.

He first filed discrimination complaints against WGME with the Maine Human Rights Commission and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, in December 2011, after his salary was cut to $45,000.

The state commission dismissed his complaint in April 2012 and the federal commission dismissed his complaint in January of this year, according to the lawsuit.

Webbert said those decisions don’t diminish Rafferty’s case in civil court. “None of the commissioners are lawyers. They’re not as good at predicting what a jury would decide,” he said.

WGME and Sinclair Broadcast Group must be given official notice of the lawsuit within 90 days of its filing. After receiving notice, they will have 20 days to respond.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has won one lawsuit against Sinclair Broadcast Group, in a discrimination case against one of its television stations, KOKH-TV in Oklahoma City.

The federal agency accused KOKH-TV of paying a black, female reporter less than her coworkers, and a federal court ordered the station to pay the reporter $45,000 and show her additional consideration.

Neither WGME nor Sinclair Broadcast Group has any other record of being sued in Maine, according to the clerk’s office in the Cumberland County courthouse. There are no records of cases against WGME or Sinclair Broadcast Group in federal courts in Maine.

 

Scott Dolan can be contacted at 791-6304 or at:

sdolan@pressherald.com